Dear Mr Ayoub Mzee
Outside of the small Orange Free State town of Ficksburg few people could have known of the existence of Andries Tatane - one would say an ordinary family man but like many others feeling the strain of poverty and the country's political leadership's indifference to their situation. All that changed last week when Tatane, acting on behalf of an elderly person who was being beaten by the police in a peaceful demonstration at the lack of service delivery in his neighbourhood, was brutally beaten up and shot by the local police. The whole of this appalling episode was filmed and screened the next evening on national television. As one newspaper commented: "The images of a lifeless Tatane held on by a friend as he died at the hands of the brutal pack of police officers has shocked the country".
Police brutality was also the main focus of the week-end press. One newspaper editorialised: "Tatane's killing has re-opened the debate on the militarisation of South Africa's police services under the leadership of cowboy police boss General Bheki Cele, whose silence on this matter is deafening." And Business Day editor Peter Bruce, in his personal column on Monday wrote that "it would be a really sad indictment of our democracy if General Bheki Cele is still the National Commissioner of Police by the end of the week."
Police brutality aside, the other issue which is hardly newsworthy because it is now part of the South African political and social reality, is the failure of the ANC government to deliver essential services - whether water, electricity, refuge removal, sanitation or housing. Service delivery everywhere in the country is a source of anger - if not despair - and protest is therefore widespread. And the reason for the failure has little to do with a lack of funding but with corruption, abuse of funds and power at the municipal level, and a lack of expertise and competence as a result of the ANC's "cadre deployment "policy. Make no mistake, there will be more clashes between demonstrators and police, very likely starting with Tatane's funeral this coming week-end.
If these two issues were of immediate concern to week-end commentators, there are two other matters which go to the heart of South Africa's much admired constitution. Clearly, Tatane's human rights were violated in the most grievous way. The right to life is enshrined in the constitution, as is the right to protest and demonstrate. Tatane was an ordinary man who was demanding recognition of his most elementary basic human rights in terms of the constitution because he wanted to improve the living circumstances of his family and other members of his community.
This quite naturally leads to another important aspect which has critical implications for the future of our constitution and its importance for a democratic government. And it is no coincidence that this is a matter which was the subject of much attention and discussion at a Constitutional Workshop supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation which took place in Sandton about 10 days ago. The question was asked - What happens to human rights, and especially social and welfare rights, when the state refuses to deliver on them? Or when it is incapable of delivering on them?
Jan Hofmeyr, of the Institute of Justice and Reconciliation, pointed out that what happens in some states, whose founding documents may guarantee social human rights, but whose tax base has shrunk to the point where they can't deliver the service which is expected of them, is that the state turns away from its citizens. As Hofmeyr put it: In these states governments have shown little responsiveness to citizen demands, and have turned into rent-seeking political elites. "South Africa", he said, "is not there yet." No doubt there will be those that differ.
Fundamental to all of this - the death of Tatane, poor or non-existent delivery of services, and government's failure in this regard - is the concept of accountability. This is what Peter Bruce is relying on when he calls for the dismissal of the police chief. This was also the psychological and moral spur to Tatane's demonstration. Accountability is essentially what defines constitutional democracy. And here we as a country are failing dismally.
How do we remedy this? It is partly a leadership issue. It is also a matter of the ruling party's public ethics. In some ways the situation could be alleviated by changing our electoral system. But that is for the next Insight.
Omega Investment Research
Cape Town, South Africa